Jackson County Opinions...

JULY 14, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 14, 2004

Council, Planning Board Actually Make Progress
Surprise, the Commerce City Council and its planning commission have a consensus. Developers need not seek to locate multi-family housing on property along Interstate 85 if they want it annexed into the city. And those proposing low-cost housing in the R-2, R-3, R-4 and R-5 categories need not apply.
The city family may not gee-haw on every issue, but it’s not totally dysfunctional following a come-to-Jesus meeting between the two groups last Thursday night at the Commerce Civic Center.
The council called the meeting to get the two groups “on the same page,” but the major thrust seemed to be to reprimand planning commission Chairman Greg Perry for typically Perryish comments to a triumvirate of speculators hoping to get land between I-85 and Banks Crossing annexed for residential development – which is the last thing the city wants or needs.
The comments came after a work session that had to be cancelled when the planning commission could not get a quorum and one of the would-be profiteers made the mistake of asking Perry what he thought the planning commission would do with the request for a mixed-use development that included some commercial but a lot of high-density housing.
The chairman, known for not mincing words, did not mince words. He let Mike Beatty, Nathan Baxter and James Short know that, in his opinion, the request would go down 5-0 “because they were trying to put residential housing in an industrial zone.”
Perry’s tone didn’t sit well. The owners of the property got their feelings hurt and complained to the elected officials about their poor treatment.
“They were upset because of the way they were treated and the way they were talked to,” said Councilman Bob Sosebee, leading to a discussion on the virtues of politeness and courtesy, an example of which might be Mr. Sosebee’s Aug. 12, 2003, public comment regarding Beatty’s help with a city grant request from the Department of Community Affairs: “We’re getting the same results from him as commissioner that we got when he was a senator and a representative – nothing,” he said, fully aware Mr. Beatty may rule on future city grant requests.
I know the men and suspect they will suffer no permanent emotional scars. After all, everyone knows Mr. Perry’s propensity for being blunt – which has the virtue of allowing you to know where he stands on any issue. He is not one to circumnavigate the shrubbery (beat around the bush). Mr. Perry may appear rude, but you wind up knowing what you need to know.
For all the effort expended seeking a kinder and gentler planning commission chairman, presumably to no avail, the value of the meeting comes from that consensus opposing cheap housing. It is agreed that the I-85 corridor – the city’s best shot at commercial and industrial development – should not be squandered on housing; and that any high-density single-family housing should be high-quality housing, not the cheap all-vinyl boxes springing up all over Commerce.
That’s progress, don’t you think?

The Commerce News
July 14
, 2004

Correcting A Mistake: Elect Pat Bell Chairman
The past four years have proven that this newspaper was dead wrong when it endorsed the candidacy of Harold Fletcher as chairman of the new, five-member Jackson County Board of Commissioners. At the time, the theory was that Fletcher’s experience and financial background made him the best of the candidates seeking that office.
On paper, he was; in reality, Mr. Fletcher has abused the power of his office, sought to consolidate all authority in county government, relentlessly campaigned to discredit his predecessor, run roughshod over the voters in the selection of a courthouse site and the schemes to finance it, warred with the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, worked to emasculate the county water and sewerage authority, failed to keep county commitments to a major industrial prospect and racked up 74 state ethics violations. Of course, Mr. Fletcher has been ably assisted by his fellow commissioners in those endeavors, but as the chairman he set the tone for the board of commissioners. The result? The most tumultuous four years in the recent history of county government.
The Commerce News hopes to help voters correct that wrong by endorsing Pat Bell in the 2004 election. Having been burned by Mr. Fletcher’s actions over four years, it is more difficult to recommend any candidate to voters, but one thing we can count on with Mrs. Bell is that she will work hard to do the right thing for the people of Jackson County.
Mrs. Bell’s service dates back to the years she worked tirelessly with county children in the Cooperative Extension Service, but it also includes tenure on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners where she successfully battled a chairman who had his own notions about grabbing power. She served on the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority as it built the Bear Creek Reservoir and water treatment plant, and other members quickly learned they had better be able to justify to her every expense. Then she served two years in the Georgia House of Representatives, representing her county well and honorably. Mrs. Bell is known throughout Jackson County for her community service – she was in charge of the Dinner With the Stars this year in Commerce’s City Lights Festival, for example and has worked with the festival group in the past as well. Her interest in the community is lifelong, not a product of political ambitions.
When Mrs. Bell takes on a new task, she goes at it full throttle. She’s not afraid to ask questions and will keep asking them until she gets the information she seeks so she can make informed decisions. Nobody will work harder on behalf of the public than Pat Bell.
Should voters make their choices based on the endorsements of others? Ideally, voters have watched the actions of the candidates in the months and years leading up to their quest for election and will have reached their own intelligent, informed decisions that reflect the philosophies, characteristics and positions they desire in public officials. They can look at actions and statements, both on the job and elsewhere, and reach their own conclusions. For any who are undecided in their choice for chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, though, The Commerce News goes on the record in support of Pat Bell without reservation.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 14, 2004

A missed opportunity for leadership
When the current five men who sit on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners took office Jan. 1, 2001, they were given a unique opportunity of leadership.
Because we had changed forms of government in 2000, from a three-member BOC with a full-time chairman to a five-member board with a hired county manager, these men had a chance to reshape county government for the 21st Century and to set some standards by which future county governments would be measured.
At the time, we had high hopes that a new day of political leadership had dawned in the county.
How wrong we were.
Rather than moving forward, Jackson County took a giant step backward.
Rather than having an open government of the 21st century, we found ourselves with a 1950s-style government of good-old-boy-backroom-wheeling-and-dealing. The only thing missing has been the smoke of cheap cigars.
There is blame enough to go around for that. Each member of the current BOC shares some of the burden for what has happened over the last three years.
But at the top, there has been a massive failure of leadership. And that shortcoming rests mostly on the shoulders of BOC chairman Harold Fletcher.
A BOC chairman, like a president, sets the political tone. As the only member of the BOC elected county-wide, it is up to the chairman to frame the issues in an appropriate manner and to focus the political debates in ways that are both productive and healthy for the citizens as a whole.
But in the past three-and-one-half years, the tone set by chairman Fletcher has been one of extreme disdain for the citizens of Jackson County. His administration has operated more like a dictatorship than an open government. And that has not been productive or healthy.

Frankly, a lot of us who are familiar with Mr. Fletcher’s past political record have been somewhat surprised about this. In 1976, when he first offered for a seat on the BOC, Mr. Fletcher ran amid a huge outcry over high taxes. He was a member of a tax-revolt committee and said in his successful 1976 campaign that he would be part of an “open administration,” that citizens deserved “courteous treatment” and that tax money should be “spent wisely.”
During Mr. Fletcher’s BOC tenure in the 1970s-1980s under highly-respected BOC chairman Henry Robinson, this newspaper often supported Mr. Fletcher’s position on various public issues. He was sometimes hot-headed, but in general we believed he tried to do the right kind of things for the county.
Yet today, as BOC chairman, Mr. Fletcher has become the antithesis of his earlier self.
During his tenure as chairman, his administration has been closed and secretive; it has shown extreme contempt for citizens of the county; and it has squandered millions of tax dollars.
How can a politician be the champion for the citizens early in his political career, but later become the same kind of abusive politician he once stood against?
It will take someone more astute in the variables of human psychology than I to answer that question.
But it is obvious to those who have watched Jackson County politics over the last 30 years that Mr. Fletcher is not the same public official today that he was years ago.
The “old” Harold Fletcher would have never attempted to take over the county water authority and been so petty as to put unqualified members on its board just so he could get rid of a political enemy.
The “old” Harold Fletcher would never have been fiscally irresponsible with taxpayer money, raising taxes and allowing county government expenses to explode. And he would have never put the county an astonishing $5 million in the red, as he did in 2003. The “old” Fletcher was a tightwad with county money, not an irresponsible spendthrift.
But most of all, the “old” Harold Fletcher would never have embarrassed Jackson County in the eyes of the state as he did this summer by failing to live up to a two-year-old agreement to build economic development roads for the Toyota plant. That failure has given Jackson County a huge black eye in the state. And it happened only because chairman Fletcher perceived those roads as the product of his political nemesis and predecessor, Jerry Waddell.
There was an opportunity for leadership in all of these and many other issues.
Yet leadership was absent, and in its place stood avarice, contempt and pettiness.

For those who read this column on a regular basis, none of the views expressed here are new. I have been a critic of this administration’s policies for many months.
In return, Mr. Fletcher and others on the BOC have called me names, probed my taxes and attempted to hurt me financially. Even in the current political campaign, Mr. Fletcher has promulgated more negative comments about me than his real opponent.
I guess if the message hits too close to home, it’s natural to shoot arrows at the messenger.
Yet none of that is important. While I’m willing to stack my journalistic integrity against Mr. Fletcher’s political integrity any time, the truth is, my name isn’t on the ballot. And while I have openly disagreed with his brand of leadership, I’m just one dissenting voice.
The only thing really important is the collective voice of the citizens of Jackson County.
Next Tuesday, after three-and-one-half-years of being ignored and dismissed, Jackson County citizens will have an opportunity to speak at the ballot box.
And the judgment they render there is the only one that counts.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
July 14
, 2004

Pat Bell for BOC chairman
Next week’s local elections may be the most important in the county’s history. Seldom before have citizens faced a moment where they could really change the direction of their Jackson County government.
And seldom before has such a major change been demanded.
We believe that electing Pat Bell as chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners is the best way to make this needed change.
Mrs. Bell is no stranger to Jackson County politics. She served on the BOC from 1997 through 2000 and then served a term as our State Representative in Atlanta.
Before her life in politics, Mrs. Bell was the director of the county extension service in Jackson County where, under her leadership, a number of active and quality programs were established.
Her work with dozens of local volunteer and community groups is too long to list, but two things stand out: Through her 30 years of work with the 4-H program, she touched the lives of thousands of local youth in a positive way. And she was the driving force behind transforming Hurricane Shoals Park from a backwoods trash heap to an outstanding public facility.
During her time in public office, both as a BOC member and as state representative, we saw that Mrs. Bell put much time and effort into serving the citizens of Jackson County. While we occasionally disagreed with her on issues, we never doubted that she had the best interest of Jackson County at heart. She was never self-serving, or looking to profit personally from her public service.
In short, Mrs. Bell brings tremendous credibility to the table and she is respected for her ability as a county leader.
More than anything else, it is those two qualities — credibility and respect — which are needed most in Jackson County today. Under the current administration, the Jackson County BOC has lost both credibility and respect.

We believe Jackson County needs a new chairman of the board of commissioners, a chairman who will work to bring citizens together, not someone who seeks to divide citizens with political gamesmanship.
We need a leader who will bring a sense of respect to the office of BOC chairman, not an official burdened by the stain of a state ethics probe.
We need a leader who is willing to listen to a variety of viewpoints before making decisions, not a manipulator who makes decisions in secret, then forces them on the taxpayers.
We need a leader who is conservative with our tax dollars, not a politician who has a tax-and-spend philosophy and under whose term county government expenses have exploded.
We need a leader who doesn’t have any potential conflicts-of-interest involving real estate, not a politician who also wants to be a real estate kingpin.
We need a leader who will seek to work with other local agencies and public authorities, not a tyrant who tries to take over these independent authorities.
We need a leader whose word we can believe, not a prevaricator who attempts to deceive us with misleading and untruthful public pronouncements.
And we need a leader whose commitment is respected by our state economic development officials, not a man whose commitments are suspect and whose word cannot be trusted.

Pat Bell is that leader.
She is the leader whose record is free of scandal and stain.
She is the leader who has three decades of working with citizens from across Jackson County.
She is the leader who doesn’t have any potential real estate conflicts-of-interest.
She is the leader who tells the truth.
She is the leader whose word is respected and trusted by state officials.
Pat Bell is the one candidate Jackson County citizens trust.
And it is for those reasons that we strongly support her bid to become the next chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

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